1. They set the tone for the talk or session2. They communicate some of your personality3. They allow the audience to subconsciously judge you … and judge you they will!
“Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking,” the best-selling book by Malcolm Gladwell, is all about this last point. We humans judge situations, people, environments and virtually everything we come in contact with subconsciously all the time – in under 3 seconds and usually, much faster. We don’t know we’re doing it, but we are. So, as a presenter, it’s really important to set up a desirable environment right from the very start.
That’s why telling a joke or relating a story that has little to do with the subject at hand is not a good idea. It confuses the audience and can adversely affect the way they relate to you. The best speakers walk onto the stage “in character” and begin. Under this scenario, the first words they utter are often sent directly to the subconscious of the audience and may be remembered long after the event.
It’s not just the words, but your demeanor, the way you’re dressed, the pacing: Everything you do in the first few seconds has a huge effect on what impression the audience forms of you … and it can last through the entire talk, and likely beyond.
Now, let’s get back to the riveting opening.
The riveting opening statement typically comes from the conclusion – the main theme, or central point that you’re making. Let’s say my presentation’s objective was to get a committee to purchase a new color laser printer. I had done my research and come to the conclusion that the new SX90 was hands down the most efficient printer on the market.
My opening line might be: “One printer on the market … one printer alone … will make our organization more efficient and effective than we have been in over 15 years.” You could even tag this line with a question rhetorical question: “Would you like to know what that printer is?”
This set-up goes right to the heart of the matter, wastes no time (very important in business presentations) and “book-ends” the presentation, as well. By “book-ending,” I mean that we could also end the presentation with a very similar summary line: “So, I know you’ll agree that the SX90 will make us more efficient and effective than we’ve been in over 15 years. I just need your signature …”
The riveting opening takes a fact or a conclusion that relates to your main theme and states it succinctly. It is usually a statement orfact that the audience may not be aware of or, if they are, said in a dramatic manner. Every word in that statement is important.
If there’s any one line that you want to memorize as a presenter, it’s the riveting statement. You want to make sure you get it right, with the proper intonation and without stumbling around. In fact, whenever I do a speech or presentation, I always memorize the opening line or paragraph, no matter what kind of opening I have planned.
Just as important – I also make sure I’ve rehearsed my final line of the presentation … when I “ask for the order.” Those are the two most important parts of any presentation.
You’ll find a re-print of this article in the free online publication, SOLD magazine, on page 42.